Expert Q&A

Late night eating: Will it sabotage your diet?

Is it okay to eat late at night? I heard that to lose/control my weight, I shouldn't eat after 8 p.m.?

Most nutrition experts recommend that you spread your calories evenly throughout the day (for the most part), keeping them balanced. However, it doesn't really matter when you eat; what really matters is how many calories you eat and burn in a day. Whether you're eating in the morning or at midnight your body turns any extra calories into fat. In fact, eating a light snack (like reduced-fat cheese and whole grain crackers) before bed may help you sleep better. Of course, the key to hunger control and even blood sugar is consuming regular, balanced meals throughout the day so you shouldn’t really be eating more than a third (at most) of your calories in the evening hours (following this philosophy). Most research on this topic has shown that people who consume more calories at night versus during the day do not gain more weight (the time of day doesn’t matter as much as the quantity overall).

Of course this research does not suggest that snacking at night after eating your normal daily ration of calories is a good idea, particularly if you are consuming unhealthy foods such as chips, ice cream or cookies. In addition, eating late at night is often associated with watching television, which puts you at risk for mindless eating (i.e. not paying attention to how much you are eating). In that case, you may indeed gain weight. It seems that a person's activity level is a better predictor of weight gain and loss. In other words, for those wishing to lose weight simply changing your diet may not be enough.

Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN
Contributing Expert

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